Englishman Who Went up a Hill
My roommate now has a transcontinental love affair, which means a high degree of romance and an outrageous phone bill.
Her English lad, who I'll call Limey, is actually quite a sweet and charming fellow. Would you expect anything less from a Brit? He came over for a visit a few weeks ago for her birthday party at Main City Bar and has now returned again for yet another go.
Feeling sympathy for him, as he's stuck in our apartment without cable TV and a key to come and go, I suggested he see a movie. Since my new boyfriend and I were playing telephone tag and I needed to pick up some chow, I offered to drive him to the cinema. We had 45 minutes to kill beforehand, so Limey and I ducked into Sitwell's for a spot of joe. He prefers tea, naturally, but I'm on a successful mission to convert him.
Apparently, things we take for granted here -- like a biggie-sized combo meal -- are a rarity overseas. Things come in small packages in England. Hopefully, for my roommate's sake, not all things. Limey was in shock when the coffee arrived in large styrofoam cups.
"In my country, you'd only get a quarter of that amount," he said.
Then the sandwiches came, and that was another cause for shock. It was great fun to watch his surprise. Apparently, he's never been to the What-a-Burger restaurant chain in Texas, where you need assistance picking up the sandwich. I shared my possibly misguided belief that Texans are unusually large people.
Sitwell's has a great atmosphere but famously sucks at times. The Maisonette it ain't. Luckily, we had time to spare. We closed the pond gap and bantered prolifically until I looked at my watch and discovered his movie had begun 10 minutes prior. He decided to forgo the movie, as it wouldn't be proper to watch after it's begun. Amelie will have to wait another day. We got "huge" boxes for our half-eaten meals and drove home in my "spacious" compact car.
I decided it was the Englishman who climbed up an American hill to see a French movie and came down a mountain. My roomie was unamused.
"Only a week and you're already dating my boyfriend," she said half-jokingly. We've lived together long enough for me to know the "half" part carries more weight.
Limey will have to fend for himself from here on out. Even though I have no intentions whatsoever toward him, I'm keeping close to my boyfriend of Irish descent, who proudly wears his "England Get Out of Ireland" button.
"Maybe we can have a double wedding and the English and Irish sides will get into a big fight," she said. Oh yeah, we can only hope.
A Day at the Races
One of the best things about April in Cincinnati is the close proximity of Kentucky. The hills are alive with budding trees and lush green, and the horses are warming up in our backyard.
The Spiral Stakes is an early taste of the thoroughbred scene at Turfway, and this year the track served up an early contender for the Kentucky Derby as per usual. This race used to be called the Jim Beam and has had more than its share of sponsors in the past few years. It's the earliest big race and often suffers wet, cold weather. This year was no exception, but the horses were hot and it whet my appetite for more racing.
Keeneland's spring session serves up what us hungry horsey types crave all April long, and this Saturday was the granddaddy of feeders for Louisville's May extravaganza. The Bluegrass Stakes was the ticket.
Early in the week, I called up Chicago, where Dick was in meetings, and planted the seed.
"Guess what is Saturday?," I purred. "I'll be in Lexington on Friday for the saddlebred sale at Tattersall's. Any chance you want to pop down early on Saturday and hit Keeneland with me?"
Once he realized it was the Bluegrass and all, he promised to hunt down clubhouse passes as that's the place to get the drinks quicker, place bets easier and the people watching is superb. After a lil' calling in favors, the tickets were secured, the plans made and only the outfit was left to be solved.
The gang headed to Lexington Friday at 5 a.m. for the horse sale. Getting up at 4:30 wasn't pretty, but the black hat sat perched on my lap ready and waiting for Saturday to dawn. Nothing's better than an excuse to dress up and don a hat.
The good news was the rain dissipated by noon Saturday and I managed to sit on my hands firmly enough that I went over to Keeneland without having bought another horse of my own. The sun was shining. My hat provided shade and my smile was omnipresent. As we crested the hill and saw Claumet farm with its white fences and horses grazing, I could feel the excitement.
Dick's friends Bob, Pat and Amy decided to join in the fun. Perfect for us as they secured a cocktail table near the refreshments (vodka tonics and bloody marys), plus they were toting the stats on the horses, the track, the jockeys and the hats. Just kidding. The guys were our personal bookies, and Amy also had on a great black hat. The men analyzed the paper. Amy and I scoped the men in coats and ties all around.
I planned to bet on the longshots all day since Pat Day, my favorite jockey, was at Acqueduct riding in the Wood. Only 33-1 odds would make my $2 turn into big bucks.
After losing two races, I switched strategies to looking at the horses in the paddock. I found the most agitated animal and quickly placed my $2. Losing again, I turned to the stats and Bob, the personal bookie. He enlightened me with the results of the first four races and how one column analyzing speed at the track's distance had been on the money. Fine. I wrote the three numbers on my hand, boxed an exacta for $10 and held my breath. I won $183.40. Who knew this could be so simple?
It must have been beginner's luck, but since Dick and I both had done it, we were on cloud nine! We turned to the more important job of people watching. The girls on the first floor of the clubhouse were young and flashing bare legs and purple toes. Lots of them had cigarettes in hand and shake-and-bake tans. A few had on so much makeup that I warned the guys they'd have to wash their pillowcases in the morning. Bob said that was a small price to pay.
Upstairs, where there was carpet and tables for lunch, the crowd was decidedly more mature and grandparent-like. Probably the serious investors of thoroughbreds and those who can afford to lose spend the day here in the comfort of Kettle One vodka and Chivas Regal. We went back downstairs where the knits were tight and the breasts perky. The guys were cuter anyway.
We made sure to check out the Bluegrass Stakes contenders undersaddle in the paddock area. There we truly got the feel for how expensive horseracing must be, as the owners outnumbered the fans. Azillion, who was a favorite in the race, had exactly a zillion people trailing him. I guess I could afford maybe a hair on one of these horses, but they're beautiful to watch and the owners sure seem happy.
Harlan's Holiday added himself to the Derby list by winning the Bluegrass. I won a dollar or two since he went off the favorite. My hat was a hit all day, and the horseshoe broach on my lapel also caught looks. Bob worried my dress was cut too generously on top, but I assured him that nothing would jump out and that the broach was secure under the broad brim of my black hat.
Tailgating at Bob's car waiting for traffic to die down, we cooled our heels with one for the road when Pat and Amy cruised by headed for the Thoroughbred Club. Cell in hand, Pat phoned the invite over to the three of us and we were off. Out of the gate, around the corner and in the door with the drop of a name, we were at the bar, resembling racehorses ourselves.
Bob noted that the pretty blue dress was in attendance. Dick noted the tiger print on the porch. Amy and I honed in on the dark handsome one being called Your Highness. Indeed, I went to investigate and in five minutes ascertained the guy was from Louisville and in the beverage dispensing business. We laughed so hard we cried.
Dusk was falling. We needed to head north. Pat told me he likes to be referred to as Mr. Hollywood, and he does have the charisma to be a megastar. He also wants to be tall.
So, in conclusion, I spent a lovely day with the tall Mr. Hollywood and his pretty wife, Amy. Bob is my new personal odds analyst. Dick can be my escort anywhere. How about May 4?
Boys of Spring
In this highly anticipated installment of "Is Bill Going to Move to Idaho?," we anxiously wait to find out what Bill has decided to do. But rather than keep you, dear readers, on the edge of your seats, I will tell you straight up that Bill has elected not to take the job and move to Idaho -- much to my relief, of course.
He said he felt it wasn't the right combination of job, location and pay for him, which is understandable. I wasn't quite sure how to feel, partially because I wasn't sure how he felt. I mean, I was glad he'll be staying here, but I also want him to succeed. He seemed disappointed yet relieved, with some confusion thrown in for good measure. But I figured as long as he's OK with it, I'm OK with it.
I seem to have gained something positive from this experience -- an urge to get more out of each day. Fortunately, the timing of this reminder aligned perfectly with the arrival of spring weather.
Time has come again to stroll the tree-lined avenues of Clifton in the evenings, sit on the porch watching the activity up and down Ludlow and sleep with the windows open. It's amazing how a spring breeze and a spot in the sunshine can make you feel especially alive and energetic again after a winter of sacking out on the sofa. Everything just seems more vivid.
So this past weekend wasn't about going to places we enjoy but rather about enjoying the places where we are -- being outside in the neighborhood, walking around, working on the car, cleaning up the grill, getting a milkshake at UDF, taking a bike ride, though not in that order. These are the things I love about the city in spring. People are happy to be outside again, and the chilly hurrying of coat and scarf-clad figures has slowed and become people without jackets taking a leisurely stroll -- which tends to result in less jaywalking as well.
Interestingly, along with spring arrived a few familiar faces. The guy from the IGA who I particularly liked, who seemed to be on hiatus for the last six months or so, has returned. Yesterday I also saw the really tall, tattooed guy who used to work at Thai Café standing on Ludlow, apparently out walking what had to be the largest dog I've ever seen.
It's as if the winter travels and seclusions are over and now, back again to keep us entertained on our strolls through the neighborhood, are the birds of spring. Or the boys of spring, anyway.
Best of all, I won't be left here to enjoy it all by myself.
Submit your stories to Whirlygig at email@example.com